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Americana Music Fest 2015: 27 Must-See Acts

From big names like Jewel and Lee Ann Womack to buzz acts JD McPherson and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, the can’t-miss artists at this year’s gathering

JD McPherson and Lee Ann Womack

JD McPherson and Lee Ann Womack are a couple of the 27 must-see acts at the 2015 Americana Music Fest in Nashville.

Jo Hale/Getty; Al Pereira/Getty

The lineup at this year's Americana Music Festival and Conference, kicking off tonight at venues throughout Nashville and running through the weekend, is especially eclectic, as country queens like Lee Ann Womack and Americana kingpins like Buddy Miller share space with Texas troubadours Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen, and scruffy garage yelpers Banditos. The diversity is what elevates the genre, a refuge for American music of all stripes. Anchored by the Americana Honors & Awards on Wednesday night, the festival features more than 200 artists. Here are 27 you just can't miss.

Session Americana

Gastwirt

Session Americana

It's right there in the name for this ultra-gifted, rotating collective of singers and multi-instrumentalists. And sprawl is a good word when it comes to the Boston-based group's raucous live shows, which were initially built around the community concept of traditional Irish seisiúns. The group, whose members have played with a variety of acts including Patty Griffin, Josh Ritter and the J. Geils Band, expertly blends vintage American roots music styles — from country to jazz to rock — in a rowdy but deft fashion. (Friday, September 18th, Listening Room Café, 10:00 p.m.) S.R.

Erin Rae

Laura Partain

Erin Rae & the Meanwhiles

With a voice that swoons and soothes, Erin Rae makes smooth-edged music for Sunday afternoons. Her arrangements — anchored by pedal-steel guitar and the steady strum of an acoustic guitar — may be rooted in modern-day indie folk, but the songs themselves rustle up comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, two likeminded singers whose music packs a punch without breaking a sweat. Armed with tracks from a new record, Soon Enough, she'll play the intimate 5 Spot with her backup band, the Meanwhiles. (Saturday, September 19th, the 5 Spot, 10:00 p.m.) A.L.

Watkins Family Hour

Sibling American musicians Sara and Sean Watkins perform with their Watkins Family Hour Band during a performance in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited' album at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors AmericanaFest NYC at Damrosch Park Bandshell, New York, New York, August 8, 2015. The concert featured a song-by-song performance of Dylan's album in its entirety. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

Jack Vartoogian/Getty

Watkins Family Hour

This supergroup combines the prodigious talents of Nickel Creek siblings Sara and Sean Watkins, Fiona Apple, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, journeyman bassist Sebastian Steinberg (the Dixie Chicks, Soul Coughing), veteran steel guitarist Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Robert Plant), and in demand drummer Don Heffington (Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams). Born out of their ongoing residency at the L.A. club Largo, the group absolutely slayed at the Newport Folk Festival in July with tracks from their eponymous debut album. And best of all the session players each get a chance to shine. (Wednesday, September 16th, Mercy Lounge, 11:00 p.m.) S.R.

Darlingside

GREENFIELD, MA - JULY 13: (L-R) David Senft, Don Mitchell, Auyon Kukhaji and Harris Paseltner of Darlingside perform during the 2014 Green River Festival at Greenfield Community College on July 13, 2014 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Douglas Mason/Getty Images)

Douglas Mason/Getty Images

Darlingside

There's certainly no shortage of choral harmonies at AmericanaFest, but Darlingside, a quartet out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, transform theirs into locomotive folk-pop confections so richly executed it's hard to tell if it's one voice or 12. Singing entirely in unison on their new LP, Birds Say (out Friday), they evoke both the likes of Guster and Crosby, Stills & Nash with a diehard earnestness, mixed with the symphonic chug of a string band. But it's their use of both electric bass and tinny banjo that keeps it modern. (Wednesday, September 16th, the Basement, 11:00 p.m.) M.M.

Christopher Paul Stelling

Jenn Sweeney

Christopher Paul Stelling

Brooklyn's Christopher Paul Stelling may have made headlines by proposing to his girlfriend onstage during this summer's Newport Folk Festival (she said yes), but his music is as equally show-stopping as that grand gesture. Armed with fast-picking fingers, Stelling released an excellent third album, Labor Against Waste, this summer that fits nicely in the Damien Rice/Tallest Man on Earth category of folk music with a fiery, nearly punk soul. But it's live where the music best translates, as he cuts into a beat-down '64 acoustic guitar with his eyes popping out, appearing possessed but clearly doing all the possessing. (Wednesday, September 16th, Station Inn, 10:00 p.m.) M.M.

Sarah Borges

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 08: Sarah Borges performs as part of Wesley Stace's Cabinet of Wonders at City Winery on May 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)

Al Pereira/WireImage

Sarah Borges

This alt-country spitfire can break your heart one moment and shank you with her raw honesty the next, thanks to her X-meets-Lucinda sonic mash-ups. The singer-songwriter from Boston has drawn high praise from high places over the years from people who know about splitting the difference between rock, pop, country and punk, including Blaster Dave Alvin and producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (Steve Earle, Joan Jett), who worked on her upcoming, promisingly titled, album Good and Dirty. (Saturday, September 19th, the Basement, 9:00 p.m.) S.R.

Whitney Rose

Jen Squires

Whitney Rose

It's a pretty strong seal of approval to get a nod from the Mavericks' Raul Malo — and it's another thing entirely to impress him so much that he offers to produce your album (and bring along a few bandmates for the ride). Such is the case with Whitney Rose, who hails from the remote Canadian outpost of Prince Edward Island but sounds like someone who discovered classic country crooners like Patsy Cline and George Jones with enough years and miles in between to mold an original yet suitably vintage spin. Malo brought glints of his Tejano touch to her newest release, Heartbreaker of the Year, which playfully croons through tales of love and mischief with girlish breath and devilish twang. (Saturday, September 19th, the High Watt, 8:00 p.m.) M.M.

Pony Boy

Elaine Reid

Pony Boy

AmericanaFest doesn't always have to mean only mandolins and steel guitar, and Pony Boy's interpretation of the genre is subtle on the debut LP Blue Gold. As the moniker of Nashville's Marchelle Bradanini, Pony Boy has an edgy swing on tracks like "Nothin's Gonna Save You Now" that could have been a Lou Reed-Nico collaboration if they went through a Nashville phase, pumped up on Hank Williams heartbreak instead of heroin. Melding the dreamy world of Beach House or Mazzy Star with Nikki Lane's quirky cowgirl, Blue Gold is a tale of California in the rear view, exposing the fading artifice and shallow promises held deeply in the City of Angels. And Pony Boy flees that L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught. (Wednesday, September 16th, the Basement, midnight) M.M.

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